Tucked into a shimmering bay with brooding mountains towering over the town’s medieval walls, Kotor was one of the prettiest spots we stayed on our travels down the Adriatic Coast. Not only is this town situated in a truly spectacular setting, there is a lot to discover within its historic core.
The entire old city of Kotor is like an open air museum – a beautifully preserved city that was once one of the most important seaport and commerce centres of the Adriatic. It’s like a smaller version of Split or Dubrovnik, with maze-like narrow streets lined with cream-coloured cobblestones, polished by centuries of footsteps.
I believe Kotor is just right for a relaxing stay of a few days. There are plenty of great restaurants and bars to check out. Yet, there aren’t a ton of “must-do” attractions like there would be in a big city. Therefore, the pressure is off and you can simply take it easy and enjoy the vibe. It’s romantic and atmospheric and the scenic bay is a photographer’s dream at any time of the year.
Is Kotor Montenegro worth visiting on your travels in the Balkans? Absolutely. Read on to learn more about Kotor and for our recommendations for enjoying this picturesque harbour town.
A Bit of History
Kotor was first mentioned in written record in 168 BC. It was originally ruled by the Illyrians, but the Romans are considered to be the founders. The town was settled in Ancient Roman times and was known as Acrucium, part of the Roman province of Dalmatia.
This town was one of the most influential of the Dalmatian city states during the early Middle Ages. It is thought that the modern name of Kotor originated from the Byzantine name of the town – Dekaderon or Dekatera.
From 1391 to 1420, Kotor is an independent Republic. Because of the danger of the Turks conquering the town, the people of Kotor voluntarily allowed the Venetian Republic to manage them. Therefore, until 1797 Kotor was under the reign of Venice. During this period of time, Kotor was constantly a battlefield and this is one of the most difficult times in the town’s history.
After this, Kotor was ruled by the Austrian Empire, then the French, then Austria again. Finally, Kotor was liberated in 1918.
Not long after, World War II broke out around Europe. Between 1941 and 1943, the Kingdom of Italy annexed the area containing Kotor. It was liberated from Nazi control in November of 1944.
What We Loved
Is Kotor Montenegro worth visiting? I think so. Here are some of the things that we loved about it.
- The Architecture: Kotor has one of the best preserved Medieval old towns on the Adriatic coast. It’s simply a stunning place to walk around.
- The Setting: Surrounded by steep limestone cliffs in a spectacular fjord on the Bay of Kotor, this city is in a truly stunning natural location.
- The Cats: Kotor is famous for its population of adorable, well-loved stray kitties. Read more about them below.
- The Gelato: When you walk around the city you’ll see countless delicious gelato shops. This is due to a culinary influence from the centuries of Italian rule by the Republic of Venice (and so are the many pizza and pasta restaurants.)
What We Didn’t Love
Of course, no destination is perfect! Here are some of the disadvantages of visiting Kotor.
- Cruise Ship Crowds: The day we went up to see the fortress, we could see an enormous cruise ship slowly entering the fjord and heading towards the old town. We hurried down the hill to make sure we had lunch before the ship disembarked. Once the passengers arrived, the peaceful old town was completely overrun with crowds spilling into the narrow cobblestone streets. It’s just not a big enough town to handle thousands of people all trying to sightsee, dine and eat gelato at once – so do your best to avoid it during a cruise ship visit.
- It’s a Bit Touristy: The touristy restaurants and shops in the Old Town are quite expensive compared to other more off-the-beaten track destinations in the region. The higher prices are obviously there to capitalize on the cruise ship visitors.
Things To Do
Pet the Cats
In Kotor, cats are considered an unofficial symbol of the town. You’ll notice dozens of them in the city centre, especially near this shop and the park next to it. The cats look quite healthy and well fed – not what you’d imagine from strays.
You’ll often see bowls of food and water left by shopkeepers on the sidewalk. There’s a lot of love for these furry creatures here and they are quite friendly and affectionate! When we sat in the park, several kitties came to sit and cuddle with us.
There’s even a Museo del Gatto di Cattaro – a cat museum in the heart of the Old Town. Part of your admission fee will go towards keeping the feline residents of the streets fed and healthy.
There’s always been a high cat population in Kotor throughout the city’s history. It was a trading port for ships from all over the world and many of the cats from the ships were left behind. This populated the small town with a diverse collection of cats.
Is Kotor Montenegro worth visiting if you don’t like cats? Sure, there are plenty of other things to enjoy. But if you ARE a cat lover, this town will feel like a cute kitty paradise.
Climb Up to the Fortress
If you stand in the old town and peer straight up at the steep mountainside overlooking the city, you’ll see an ancient stone fortress with a waving flag. This is St. John’s Fortress, also known as the Castle of San Giovanni – and the views from up there are spectacular.
The climb consists of over 1300 stone steps and it begins from the North Gate in the Old Town. Along the way you’ll pass a small church – the Church of Our Lady of Remedy. Make sure you bring plenty of water with you and wear sturdy shoes. The path climbs up on old crumbling stone steps and you’ll want to have good footwear!
If you climb the walls between 8am and 8pm, you’ll need to pay €8 at the little booth on the way up. Of course, technically the walls are open 24 hours per day – so you could go up before or after that for free. The hike will take around 90 minutes to two hours to go up and down – or longer if you want more time to linger and enjoy the views.
(You might think this would be a good place to watch the sunset, but the mountain behind you blocks the bay and it simply gets dark. The best time to hike up is in the morning or afternoon.)
Walk (or Run) on the Seaside Road
Every morning while we were in Kotor, I would wake up at 6:30am and go for a 5 mile run along the seaside road stretching out of Kotor. The November air was crisp and cool, the warm golden sunlight made the tops of the mountains glow and the morning breeze rippled on the deep waters of the bay. It was one of the most beautiful places I went running on our entire Balkans trip.
I highly recommend going for a stroll or a run along the seaside road that leads out of Kotor and down the fjord. The views of the bay and mountains are spectacular. Plus, if you’re walking there are many great outdoor patios along the way where you can enjoy a drink while you admire Kotor and the stunning bay.
Where We Ate and Drank
This casual BBQ joint is ranked at #2 out of 114 restaurants in Kotor on TripAdvisor – and we could easily see why. It’s one of the most delicious and best value meals you can find in the city. You can order huge platters of grilled pork, beef and chicken with fresh grilled vegetables, salad and delicious sauces. The portions are generous, the prices very affordable and the food is high quality and fresh. It’s a very casual small place with a few tables for dining – so you can order at the counter and eat in, or take away.
This friendly laid back pub is known for setting the mood with great live music. You can cozy up within the historic stone interior, or relax on a warm summer evening at the patio tables outside. There’s also a Pržun Restaurant next door, where you can fuel up on burgers, seafood or steaks before you start your night out. Lee and I didn’t discover this great pub until our last day in Kotor and we really wish we had found it sooner!
One of the most delicious snacks of the Balkans is burek – a pastry made with layers of thin flaky dough stuffed with meat, potatoes, spinach or cheese. It can be found at pretty much every bakery in Kotor and is often served with yogurt. Not only is this warm, savory pastry melt-in-your-mouth delicious, it’s also a great budget option. Usually a burek will cost around one euro or less, so it makes a very affordable snack.
Tips for Visiting Kotor, Montenegro
- Check the cruise ship schedules online to find out when they will be visiting the city. Then, you can plan your sightseeing for a less-crowded opportunity. (Usually the cruise ships will only stay in the bay for a couple of hours and then move on.)
- Visit outside of the high season in July and August if you want to avoid the crowds. We were there in November and it was still sunny and beautiful – but much more peaceful.
- To find the better restaurants, explore down the side streets and look beyond the obvious touristy ones. You’ll find more authentic dishes and better prices.
- We used Airbnb to find accommodation and stayed in an apartment right outside the walls of the old city. It was cheaper than a hotel and still close to everything we wanted to see.
- The currency is the Euro. It was introduced in Montenegro in 2002.
Is Kotor Montenegro worth visiting?
We certainly think so! If you’re planning a trip to Kotor and have any questions, leave them in the comments below! Or, if you’ve been to Kotor and you have a recommendation, please share it!